Member Spotlight

Donald R. Cahill, Ph.D.
1936 – 2016

The current Member Spotlight features Dr. Donald Cahill, one of the original 18 individuals who organized the formation of the AACA in 1983. We remember Don Cahill for his many contributions to AACA: founding member; host of AACA’s First Annual Meeting; Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Anatomy; administrative positions culminating in his election as President of AACA (1993-1995); and his recognition by AACA with the Honored Member Award in 1999.

Don Cahill was born and reared in Glasgow, Montana.  After high school he joined the U.S. Army, was trained as a paratrooper, and served with the 82nd Airborne Division from 1955 to 1957.  After the Army Don returned home and enrolled at Montana State University.  While an undergraduate student, Don married Susan Messick in 1959, a devoted marriage that was to last for 57 years until Don’s death in 2016.  Don was awarded his bachelor’s degree in 1960, his master’s degree from the University of Washington in 1964, and his Ph.D. from Temple University in 1968. 

Don Cahill moved his growing family to Chicago in 1968 to begin his academic career teaching medical and dental students gross anatomy as an assistant professor of anatomy at Northwestern University.  He moved again in 1971, when he was appointed associate professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Florida.  In addition to teaching medical students Don continued research on dental follicles and the mechanisms of tooth eruption.  In 1980, Don was recruited to the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, was appointed Chair of Anatomy there in 1981, and promoted to professor in 1983.  Throughout his career, Don was known for his excellence in teaching and for his personal attention to his students and their professional growth.  Two of Don Cahill’s books are well known to medical students.  Don was senior author of Atlas of Human Cross-Sectional Anatomy.  His was the first of the modern cross-sectional atlases designed to relate the clinical relevance of cross-sections to the then new imaging methods of CT and MRI scans.  Don also updated Lachman’s Case Studies in Anatomy and this revised 4th edition was published in 1997.  After his retirement from Mayo in 1998, Don was asked to serve as Acting Chair of Anatomy at Dartmouth Medical School for one year.  Don and Susan finally retired to Arizona in 2001.

As a founding member of AACA in 1983, Don Cahill was known for his tireless energy in promoting the new organization, recruiting new members, and helping to establish its administrative structures.  To help the AACA get off the ground, Don volunteered to host its First Annual Meeting at the Mayo Clinic in May 1984, at which time the membership had grown to 88 members.  Perhaps Don Cahill’s greatest contribution to AACA was his tenure as Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Anatomy from 1991 to 2001.  From the beginning Don was one of several members who were instrumental in successful efforts to convince the membership that the AACA needed its own journal. Clinical Anatomy was formed in 1987 and first published in 1988 under the joint editorship of Ralph Ger for AACA and Ray Scothorne for BACA.  Under Ger’s and Scothorne’s leadership, the journal achieved recognition from a number of preeminent clinical anatomists throughout the world.  This success required administrative adjustments to continue Clinical Anatomy’s growth, and Don Cahill was appointed Editor-in-Chief in 1991, with Sandy Marks and Ray Scothorne as the AACA and BACA editors, respectively.  Under Don’s editorial leadership, publication of the journal changed from quarterly to bimonthly to meet the dramatic increase in the number of submitted manuscripts, and by its quality Clinical Anatomy won listing in Current Contents and Index Medicus, which increased its circulation.

Tireless, effective, and loyal are three words that best describe Don Cahill’s work to build the AACA.  Don was one of the founding members and never stopped promoting and serving our organization.  In addition to his commitments to his students and home institutions, Don contributed to AACA by hosting three AACA meetings (1984, 1986, 1995), served as Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Anatomy from 1991 to 2001, and was elected in succession Councilor, Secretary/Treasurer, Vice-President, President-Elect, and, finally, served as the 6th President of AACA from 1993 to 1995.  In 1999, Donald Cahill, Ph.D. was given the association’s highest recognition when he was presented the Honored Member Award in Iowa City at the 16th Annual Meeting for his extraordinary dedication to AACA.